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The Man From Down Under's On His Way Up

September 20, 1986|RODERICK MANN

Paul Hogan is the amiable actor who does those Come to Australia TV commercials. You know--"Put another shrimp on the barbie," "If people ask you where Australia is, tell 'em it's where the America's Cup is."

Since he is credited with single-handedly boosting his country's tourism by 40%--for this he was Australian of the Year recently--it's clear he deserves however much he's being paid.

How much is it?

"Nothing," he said in Los Angeles the other day. "I do them for free. I wanted to help promote tourism, but I didn't want to become a public servant. Anyway they could never have afforded my price."

The fact that he has a price at all will come as a surprise to many. For although he's the Australian equivalent of Johnny Carson, having had a top-rated TV show for many years, he's hardly known here except by those who saw his show on cable.

He hopes all that will change Friday when Paramount releases his first movie, "Crocodile Dundee," a film that has already broken all records in his own country and is expected to gross an impressive $18.8 million Down Under.

The movie, which Hogan co-wrote, is about an Australian frontiersman who, having survived a crocodile attack, is tracked down by a hero-hunting American journalist (Linda Kozlowski) who persuades him to return to New York with her. There he comes face to face with real dangers in the shape of muggers, dope pushers and pimps. One critic has described "Crocodile Dundee" as a sort of low-rent Clint Eastwood.

And that's just fine with Hogan. He admires Eastwood.

Conventional wisdom in Hollywood dictates that you never put your own money in a movie. Your father's, your best friend's--but never your own. Hogan, unaware of this policy, dumped a lot of his own into the picture. The result--he's going to wind up an Australian millionaire.

"We're already into profit back home," he said (the film cost $5.6 million). "So what we get from the rest of the world is gravy."

Hogan, a small, reticent man who tends to think before he answers questions--an interesting trait--admits his movie is meant to win audiences, not prizes.

"In Australia we've made too many art films and not enough commercial ones," he said, sitting back in his Hotel Bel-Air suite. "So this one is aimed at the world market. It's pure entertainment. Anyone can make people depressed. My idea is to make them laugh."

Hogan says he takes his responsibility as Australia's No. 1 booster very seriously. And the thought of advertisements were, in fact, his idea. He writes them.

"I'd always known that Americans were abysmally ignorant about my country," he said. "And the kind of advertisements that did run weren't about to make them travel halfway around the world.

"So my business partner (John Cornell, who produced "Crocodile Dundee") and I went to see our minister of tourism and told him our ideas.

" 'All right,' he said, 'how much do you want?'

" 'Nothing,' I said. 'You can't afford my price.' Anyway, I didn't want to look like a broken-down actor trying to line his pockets from government coffers. Nor did I want to be a civil servant. I don't even have a contract--I can stop doing them whenever I like."

The advertisements were a hit from the start. Within six months, tourism had soared. "We established Australia in America's mind as a holiday destination," said Hogan.

Hogan, who lives in Sydney with his wife and children, is convinced that Australians enjoy their lives more than Americans do. "We're more happy-go-lucky," he said, "and we're not so competitive."

So it wasn't stress, he insists, that caused him to have a cerebral hemorrhage this year. It happened because he was working out lifting weights. Prime Minister Bob Hawke was among the 4,000 people who sent him get-well messages.

"I was lucky," he said. "I recovered. People wrote to me and asked me to take it easy. 'It's stress,' they said. It wasn't stress. And if I took it any easier I'd be a zombie. I'm really lazy."

Hogan is now at work on a sequel to "Crocodile Dundee."

"He's a good character," he said. "In Australia we don't really have any interesting folk heroes. Ned Kelly was pathetic; he couldn't even rob banks properly. So I decided to create one of my own. And people seem to like him."

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